The Commissioners to the Comte de Vergennes
Passi Septemr. 10. 1778
By some of the last Ships from America, we received from Congress certain Powers and Instructions, which we think it necessary to lay before your Excellency, and which we have the Honor to do in this Letter.1
We have the Honor to enclose to your Excellency a Copy of the Contract made between the Committee and Mr. Francy, a Copy of Mr. Francy’s Powers, and a Copy of the list of Articles to be furnished, according to that Contract, that your Excellency, may have before you all the Papers relative to this Subject.2
We are under a Necessity of applying to your Excellency upon this Occasion, and of requesting your Advice.
With Regard to what is passed, we know not who the Persons are, who constitute the House of Roderigue Hortalez & Company, but we have ever understood, and Congress has ever understood, and so have the People in America in general, that they were under Obligation to his Majestys good will, for the greatest part of the Merchandizes, and Warlike Stores heretofore furnished, under the Firm of Roderigue Hortalez & Company. We cannot discover that any written Contract was ever made between Congress or any Agent of theirs, and the House of Roderigue Hortalez & Co., nor do we know of any living Witness, or any other Evidence, whose Testimony can ascertain to us, who the Persons are that constitute the House of Roderigue Hortalez & Company, or what were the Terms upon which the Merchandises and Munitions of War were supplied, neither as to the Price, nor the Time or Conditions of Payment.
As we said before, we apprehend that the United States hold themselves under Obligation to his Majesty, for all these Supplies, and we are sure it is their Wish and their Determination to discharge the Obligation to his Majesty, as soon as providence shall put it in their Power. In the mean time, we are ready to settle and liquidate the Accounts according to our Instructions, at any time and in any Manner, which his Majesty, or your Excellency shall set out to us.
As the Contract for future Supplies is to be ratified, or not ratified by us, as we shall judge expeditious we must request your Excellencys Advice as a favor upon this Head, and whether it would be safe or prudent in us to ratify it, and in Congress to depend upon Supplies from this Quarter, because if we should depend upon their Resource for Supplies, and be disappointed, the Consequences would be fatal to our Country.3 We have the Honor to be with all Respect Your Excellencys most Obedient and very humble Servants
RC (Arch. Aff. Etr., Paris, Corr. Pol. E.-U., vol. 4); docketed: “M. de R office des Commissaires du Congrès &c. Septembre 10. Rec. Le 14. 7bre.” The “R,” which appears here and in later letters, presumably refers to Joseph Mathias Gérard de Rayneval, first secretary in the French foreign office.
1. The two and a half pages that follow contain three long quotations, which have been omitted. The first was the text of a congressional resolution of 13 April authorizing the Commissioners to “determine and settle” the compensation due Roderigue Hortalez & Cie. for supplies furnished before 14 April (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 10:342). The second was the first paragraph of the Commerce Committee’s letter to the Commissioners of 16 May instructing the Commissioners to determine what proportion of the supplies sent to the United States had been the property of Roderigue Hortalez & Cie., and what proportion belonged to the French government (vol. 6:127–128). The third passage contained the text of two resolves of 16 May directing the Commissioners to obtain, if they had not already been shipped, a list of goods and medicines from Roderigue Hortalez & Cie., and to request a convoy for the ships carrying the supplies (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 11:505).
2. The enclosures have not been found, but for the contract and the powers of Francy, Beaumarchais’ agent in America, see JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 10:316–318, 320-321.
3. It is unlikely that this letter led to a clarification of the situation regarding Roderigue Hortalez & Cie., for Vergennes apparently did not respond in writing, at least no letter has been found. However, he made the position of the French government clear in his instructions to Conrad Alexandre Gérard of 16 Sept. (Gérard, Despatches and Instructions description begins Despatches and Instructions of Conrad Alexandre Gérard, 1778–1780: Correspondence of the First French Minister to the United States with the Comte de Vergennes, ed. John J. Meng, Baltimore, 1939. description ends , p. 294). Regarding the goods supplied by Beaumarchais, Vergennes informed Gérard that “le Roi ne leur a rien fourni, qu’il a simplement permi à M. de Beaumarchais de se pourvoir dans ses arsenaux à charge de remplacement; qu’au surplus j’interviendrois avec plaisir pour qu’ils ne fussent point pressés pour les remboursements des objets militaires.” Translation: the King has furnished them nothing, that he has simply permitted M. Beaumarchais to obtain supplies from the King’s arsenals at the cost of replacement, and that, moreover, I would intervene with pleasure so that they  are not pressed for the reimbursement of the military stores.
As to the contract between the congress and Roderigue Hortalez & Cie., Vergennes wrote to Gérard that “je ne connois point la maison Roderigue, Hortalez et Cie. et que je ne puis répondre pour Elle, il m’est impossible d’avoir une opinion soit sur sa solidité, soit sur sa fidélité à remplir ses engagements.” Translation: I know nothing of the house of Roderigue, Hortalez & Cie. and thus I cannot answer for it. It is impossible for me to have an opinion on either its soundness or faithful fulfillment of its agreements.
Despite his apparent unwillingness to reply to the Commissioners’ questions, in the instructions of 16 Sept., Vergennes ordered Gérard to transmit his responses to the congress. Gérard made use of the instructions in early 1779 when he was forced to respond to Thomas Paine’s charge in a Philadelphia newspaper that the supplies obtained through Roderigue Hortalez & Cie. had been “a present” from France (from Edmund Jenings, 25 April 1779, note 1, below).